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Australia will be ‘patient’ in trying to improve relations with China, says deputy prime minister

Australia will be “patient” as it seeks to repair relations with Beijing, said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

His country will also be looking for ways to broaden its trade interests, he told CNBC on Thursday.

Last week, China announced it would “indefinitely” suspend economic dialogue with Australia, the latest in the rift between both countries. Their relations have soured since last year after Canberra supported an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trade in some products has been caught in the fallout. Beijing has for months targeted a growing list of imported products from Down Under — putting tariffs on wine and barley, and suspending beef imports.

When asked on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” what he was willing to do to bring China to the negotiating table following the suspension, McCormack said: “We’ll be patient, we always are.”

On Thursday, China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng told reporters in Beijing that Australia needs to halt its “wrong actions” that “interfere” with its trade with China. He also said Australia needs to take steps to promote the healthy development of trade.

Gao did not specify what these measures should be. That’s based on a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language comments.

China’s overall trade with Australia grew in April, despite the tensions. Chinese imports from Australia rose 49% to $14.87 billion, while exports rose 20% to $5.25 billion, China’s customs agency said earlier this month.

“We understand that we’ve got the world’s best products,” McCormack said. “I know our mining resources are valued right across the world … whether it’s coal, whether it’s iron ore … iron ore prices are very strong at the moment.”

Beijing imports 60% of its iron ore from Australia, and is heavily dependent on the commodity, which it uses to make steel. China is the world’s top producer of steel. The country is also the world’s largest coal consumer and its greatest source of coal imports was Australia.

“Indeed our resources are greatly valued, greatly in demand around the world, and whether it’s China, or any other country, we will work with them always in a friendly and diplomatic and responsible way,” McCormack concluded.

He also separately said that Australia is looking to “broaden” its trade interests.

“China is a big market for us … we also understand there’s a big world out there … our resources are in great demand and we’ll continue to make sure we diversify our markets,” McCormack told CNBC.

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